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Tag: grass-fed

Environmentalism by Abandonment

Posted in Food for Thought

Herbivores, and especially livestock have been blamed for ruining the environment. Environmental scientists claim that overgrazing by livestock, namely cows, has resulted in desertification (land turning to desert.) It’s true that mismanaged livestock has caused environmental damage, but this does not mean that livestock itself is to blame.

For decades, the official policy to protect and restore land in national parks and elsewhere was to eliminate livestock. This policy has not been proven to work. Land in national parks is no better than it was before, much of it is worse. Nature doesn’t abandon land, she fills it with animals.

Grasslands developed over millennia with large numbers of herbivores. Huge herds of buffalo, elk, gazelles, zebras, and other even larger herbivores that have gone extinct. These animals lived in tight herds to protect themselves from pack hunting carnivores. A large herd of herbivores would quickly defecate all over the ground and their food, forcing them to move to fresh ground. This prevented them from overgrazing the grass.

What Happens When We Abandon Land?

Grass, once it is fully grown, must decay or be removed before the next year’s growing season. If it’s not, the grass and soil begin to die. If grass cannot decay biologically, it shifts to oxidation. This is the brown grass you see in pasture that’s not been grazed recently. Oxidation can take up to 60 years to complete in drier environments. Meanwhile, this dead grass smothers new growth, leading to a shift toward woody shrubs with bare ground in between.

Bare ground cannot hold water and is easily eroded. In my article, The Conventional Food System is Fragile, I wrote about how erosion has affected cropland. In America, we’ve lost as much as 30% of our topsoil in the last 200 years.[3, 5] That’s the power of erosion.

Fire is another hazard created by abandoning grassland. Dead, dry grass is very susceptible to fire. Just look at california. Not only is fire dangerous to humans and wildlife, it’s dangerous for the environment. French research has shown that a one and a half acre grassland fire releases more carbon dioxide than 3,694 cars per second and more nitrous oxide than about 1,400 cars per second.  Biomass burning accounts for 40 percent of C02 production annually.[2]

One of the reasons, that desert stays desert is because the ground cannot hold water. Soil needs organic matter to hold water. It needs plant matter to protect it from the hot sun and it needs organic materials to hold onto water. Without these two things, water runs right off and evaporates within hours after rainfall ends.  

Grass Wants to be Cut

When a plant, such as grass, reaches maturity, it stops growing and begins to die off. This is the brown grass you see in many pastures. The life cycle of a grass plant is short, only a couple months. When grass reaches the end of its life, it wants to be pruned off so it can start over. Without that pruning, the leaves are left to decompose on their own.

You might think that animals trampling and eating grass would kill it. But that’s not true. Grasses are specifically designed to lose significant parts of itself, yet thrive afterward. Think of cutting the grass in your lawn. That’s a violent endeavor. You’re taking a fast spinning sharp blade and cutting the top few inches off the plant. Imagine if someone came along and cut your arms off. Would you thrive afterward? No. But grass does. Grass loves to be mowed, weeds do not. This is grass’ competitive advantage.

How Do We Maintain Billions of Acres?

Your first thought might be to use large lawn mowers, also known as brush hogs. It makes sense at first, homeowners use lawnmowers. Why not use them on grasslands? Well, for one, there’s over 12 billion acres of dry rangeland that needs to be cared for. Does anyone really think that mowing 12 billion acres is realistic? Even if we only mowed 1 billion acres, who’s going to pay for it? To put this in context, 1 billion acres would be like mowing every single acre in Alaska, Texas, and California.

Not only would this be expensive in terms of dollars, it would burn up a lot of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels in the name of carbon sequestration. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. So, i’ll consider that a no for the majority of grasslands.

Our second method to maintain grassland is to burn off the dead vegetation, to make way for new growth. The forest service has used this method to restore land and to prevent wildfires. I’ve already established how polluting a grassland fire is. Not to mention how big a threat it is to wildlife and people’s homes. I’m going to say that burning is not the solution. Just ask any californian if they’d like more grassland to burn.

We Need Livestock to Mow Grass

The third solution would be to use animals. Animals don’t run on fossil fuels and don’t cost money to run, other than management costs. The idea behind abandonment is to let the wildlife return to haw they grazed hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the numbers of wildlife required to maintain grasslands. Not only do we have too few animals, but the prairies in north america and other countries has been divided up by human settlement. People live there. That interrupts the natural migration patterns of wildlife.

If we can’t rely on wildlife, then how about livestock? Using electric fence, livestock can be managed in a way that mimics the wild herds that built prairies around the world. Now to make the animal rights people happy, let’s suppose we run these millions of herbivores for the sole purpose of mowing grass, letting them die of old age or predators. Okay, who pays for it? We end up with the same problem we had with mowing.

When you run a herd of livestock without harvesting any of them. They become recreational. Someone has to pay the ranchers to manage these herds. They can’t manage themselves. But, when you allow the ranchers to sell their animals, suddenly this becomes a business that can pay for itself. It’s sustainable. It doesn’t need a check from the government or a non-profit.

Don’t Blame the Cow

One of the hurdles to using cows to maintain grassland is that cows produce methane during digestion. Because of this environmentalist and vegans want cows to be eliminated. This is a problem that can be overcome with proper management. Methane production is aggravated when livestock eat poor quality grass.[4] This happens with continuous grazing where the pasture quality declines over time.

Yes, it’s true that cows produce methane. However, when managed properly, their carbon sequestration more than offsets their methane output.[6] Research at the University of Louisiana has demonstrated that enteric methane emissions can be notably cut when cattle are regularly moved on to fresh pastures.[4]

Cows have also been unfairly blamed for ruining the environment by overgrazing land until it turns to desert. As if cows have a personal vendetta against the climate. This is simply not true. Cows are a tool, they can be used to restore the environment, or misused and end up destroying the environment.

As an example, let’s use a kitchen knife. Knives can be very useful. They can turn a pile of vegetables and meat into a delicious stew. But that very same knife can also be used to murder someone. That’s not the knife’s fault. No one blames the knife for a stabbing.

In the same way, no one should blame the cow for harming the environment. The ones to blame are the ranchers who leave them to overgraze, and the environmentalists who remove them only to find the land degrades even faster with zero grazing.

Livestock Can Sequester Carbon

“A growing body of research shows that livestock grazing can enhance biodiversity.”

Ecosystems of California – university textbook

Since I’ve established that livestock are the only viable option in maintaining land, let’s talk about how they can also help to fight climate change. To understand this, you should understand a little about how grass grows. Grass goes through roughly three stages as it grows. The first is when it’s small, either a seedling or just been mowed. The second is the growth spurt on the way to maturity, this is when most of the carbon sequestration happens. The third stage is maturity. This is when grass stops growing and will eventually go dormant.

As you probably concluded, we want to keep grass in the growth spurt stage a much as possible. The only way to do that, is to keep mowing it. And the best way to mow it is with livestock.

Data collected from the Michigan State University proves just how beneficial managed grazing can be. The cattle raised in feedlots averaged over three times as much carbon emissions per kilogram as cattle raised in managed grazing.[6] Their carbon sequestration vastly out weighted any slight increase in methane production. In April 2014, Seth Itzkan published a 34 page paper where he concluded that holistic managed grazing could sequester between 25 and 60 tons of carbon per hectare per year.[7]

Effective sequestration isn’t just about growing more plant matter. Carbon sequestration means putting carbon into the soil. This is how the fertile soils of the midwest were formed. Carbon is sequestered in a cooperative process between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. A protein called glomalin holds the carbon, making up 15% to 20% of the organic matter in the soil.

Livestock is the only farming method to achieve this. When you till soil, the mycorrhizal fungi are injured, reducing carbon sequestration. The UK Soil Association found that plowing up grazing lands in the UK results in 1.6 million tons of carbon releasing into the air every year.[1]

Support Sustainable Farms, Fight Climate Change

One of the most effective ways for you to fight climate change is by changing your eating habits. The UK soil association found that organic farming increases soil carbon levels. And not just a little bit, the average carbon levels were over 20% higher than non-organic farming.[8]

Sustainable farming doesn’t pollute. It doesn’t stink up the neighborhood. It doesn’t truck its food all over the world. Sustainable farmers try to leave the environment better than they found it. They feed their cows grass instead of grain. They grow their crops with little to no tillage. They raise animals outside, a revolutionary idea nowadays.

There’s yet another reason to buy food from a sustainable farm, economics. When you buy grass finished beef instead of feedlot beef, you’re voting with your dollars. Buying from a small sustainable farm means a lot more than buying from a billion dollar food company. While a huge food company will hardly notice your lost purchase, your small farm purchases may mean the difference between that farmer needing a day job and being able to go full-time. That’s why local farmers are so grateful to their customers.

 

References

  1. www.soilassociation.org/media/4954/policy_soil_carbon_full_review.pdf
  2. www.savory.global/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/climate-change.pdf
  3. Food, Energy, and Society, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, 2007
  4. Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2014
  5. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David R. Montgomery, 2012
  6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003
  7. http://planet-tech.com/upsidedrawdown
  8. https://www.soilassociation.org/media/4954/policy_soil_carbon_full_review.pdf

Any Food Label You Can Use, Industry Can Use Better

Posted in Food for Thought

Organic, natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised, cage-free –  these food labels used to mean something. They meant food raised on small local farms. Food raised with care and respect. They meant that the farmer’s goal was improving the environment, not pillaging it.

But nowadays, you can’t be so sure. The food industry has taken these terms and twisted them to make their products appear to be the same quality as those from sustainable local farms. This co option of said terms dilutes their value. What is the average consumer to think? They see natural, cage-free, or grass-fed on a package and assume they’re getting the same quality as what they might get from a farmers market, but much cheaper.

Look! We’re Certified. Aren’t We Great?

Industry has millions of dollars to spend on branding, marketing and pr. They love certifications. Certifications are easy to slap on a label then hide behind it. Certifications also make it easy for lazy consumers to feel like they’re buying a superior product when in reality, it may only be marginally better, if at all.

Certification is no guarantee of quality. Many people buy organic because they think it’s healthier, that it has more nutrients. But that’s not necessarily the case. Organic certification has nothing to do with nutrients. Organic specifies what’s not in the food: GMOs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. While eliminating these things is important, it’s only half the battle.

Most organic certified food is raised in the same systems as their conventional counterparts. Organic chickens are still raised in cramped buildings, I’m sorry “free-range barns”, as conventional chickens. Organic produce is raised in the same massive monocultures that you would be hard pressed to tell apart from conventional. That organic yogurt you bought at the store probably came from an industrial dairy. The only real difference required is the lack of antibiotics and that the feed is certified. Organic standards don’t specify that the cows must be on fresh pasture, access to a dirt yard will suffice.

There’s a pizza company in Iceland called Pizza Express, they released a brand called Artisana Range Pizzas. Sound’s artisanal, doesn’t it? That’s the idea, and the scam. Factory made pizza is anything but artisanal.

Many terms used to describe the healthfulness of food are not regulated. Anyone can call their products natural. Any meatpacker can call their beef grass-fed. Consumer Reports surveyed 1,000 adults and found that more people buy natural than organic. “We’ve seen time and again that majority of consumers believe the ‘natural’ label means more than it does,” says Urvashi Rangen, Ph.D.[1]

Everything is Natural

I had a friend who used to tell me this fifteen years ago. And he was right. Everything is natural, everything comes from the earth. That doesn’t make it inherently healthy or dangerous. But it does sell product. While, he used this as an excuse to eat whatever he wanted, food companies use it to whitewash their industrial processed crap. Are Twinkies natural? They could be. Depends on your definition.

Natural has been twisted to make even the most unhealthy food sound healthy. People believe that products labeled as ‘natural’ will contain no antibiotics, GMOs, artificial colors, etc. The fact is, ‘natural’ means nothing. There is no standard definition for the term. No one is regulating how it is used. So companies use it however they like. Hostess cupcakes contain ‘natural flavors’. Natural flavors sound good, don’t they? After all they’re natural. But the reverse is true. Natural flavors can mean a lot of things, one of them is MSG.

More Terms That Don’t Mean What You Think

Vegetarian Fed does not pertain to where the animal was raised, only what they were fed. GMO corn and soybeans are allowed. These animals are typically raised in the same confinement buildings and feedlots as their conventionally raised counterparts.[2] they have to be because Chickens are not Vegetarians.

Cage Free laying hens are taken from small cages and placed in crowded houses.[2] In fact, it’s probably the same house with the cages removed. There’s still thousands of hens, but instead of being stacked in cages, they’re all crammed on one floor. Also there may have a small door in the side that leads to a dirt yard. You know, because natural.

Pasture-raised – It’s true that these animals spend their time on pasture. However, the quality of that pasture is not specified.[2] Most cows on pasture are continuous grazing. Meaning that they stay on the same pastures until there may be no grass left. Or they selectively graze only the types of grass they like, leaving the weeds to take over. This type of grazing can destroy pasture. When grass is constantly eaten back down and cannot regrow, it dies out or grows thin. Properly managed pasture can have up to three times as much grass per square foot as poorly managed pasture.

Pasture-raised does not mean grain-free. Cows raised on said pasture can be fed as much grain per day as a feedlot cow.[2] Since cows prefer the high carbohydrate grain, they may eat very little grass. However, they will eat grass. This helps them tolerate some of the conditions that grain feeding create. So pasture raised is still better than feedlot raised.

No Routine Antibiotic Use – Sounds like they don’t use antibiotics, doesn’t it? Instead it means that the animals are not fed continuous antibiotics in order to stimulate growth or prevent disease. However, they can be given antibiotics if they get sick.[2] And getting sick is rather likely given the conditions they live in.

Local is supposed to mean from a small farm within a few hundred miles. But local can be twisted to mean just about anything.[2] A couple years ago a restaurant near us began buying meat from a local farm. Everything was great for a couple months, then they stopped buying. When the farmer investigated, the restaurant told them that they went back to buying from their distributor. The distributor said that there was a CAFO located about 100 miles away, so the meat was technically local. The restaurant got to continue using the word local to promote themselves, while buying the same cheap meat as any other restaurant. Meanwhile the customers are being duped and the local farmer is one customer closer to not being in business.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Certifications

Certified Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, Non-GMO. These certifications are only necessary when you don’t know where your food is coming from. Not to mention, certification is no guarantee. The USDA cannot possibly test and check every product labeled organic. No certification agency can watch every farm and food company all the time.

Putting all your trust in third party or government agencies is not a good idea. These entities can be infiltrated by industry to get concessions. Food companies are constantly lobbying to get loopholes and other concessions in the organic standards. The very existence of organic cheese puffs is proof that the organic standards have been diluted.

When you get to know your farmer, you don’t have to rely on third parties who may or may not be overworked. Customer inspection is the best kind of inspection. Let’s take a farm serving 200 households. Perhaps 50 of those customers will want to come see the farm. That’s 50 inspections. Many of them will be short notice or even a surprise. There’s nothing like having customers around to keep you honest.

So next time you’re at the farmer’s market, ask the farmers if you can come out and visit their farm. If they say, “Sure, come on out.” then you can be reasonably sure that they’re doing things right. You don’t even have to go out yourself. As long as you know that other customers are going to the farm, you can rest assured that your farm is customer inspected. No certifications necessary.

References:

  1. www.consumerreports.org/natural-foods/the-difference-between-labels-on-organic-and-natural-foods/
  2. http://www.gracelinks.org/499/glossary-of-meat-production-methods

Your Body is not Sterile

Posted in Food for Thought

Our culture has taught us to be afraid of bacteria. We believe that our bodies are sterile and bacteria invade and attack, making us sick. If you stopped an average soccer mom on the street and told her that there are trillions of bacteria in her guts, she would probably freak out and run for the antibiotics. What she doesn’t understand is there are good kinds of bacteria. We need this bacteria. If our intestines we’re truly sterile, we would most surely die.

Bacteria are on our skin. Some cause body odor, some manufacture vitamin D when we get sunshine. Bacteria line the membranes of our mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. These bacteria are the first line of defence against foreign invaders.[1] There are actually more cells in your gut flora than in your body.[6] This collection of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, worms, and other single celled organisms is more unique than any fingerprint or any retinal scan could possibly be.

The makeup of this flora is constantly changing. The food you eat, the chemicals you’re exposed to, and any drugs or medication you take will affect it. When I was a teenager, I found out that the more sugar I ate, the more acne I got. If I went easy on sugar for a week, my acne cleared up. No medicine or creams required.

Bacteria is Good for You

Since the advent of germ theory, mankind has feared bacteria. Antibiotics, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, these have become commonplace. Modern families endeavour to live without bacteria. But this is a fallacy. We cannot live without bacteria. Nor can we live without beneficial yeasts, viruses, and other microbes.

Your body uses this gut flora to digest food. They are the ones who break down your food into usable constituents, not your stomach, not your intestines. Your digestive system is merely a place for them to live. Your gut flora assists in the assimilation of nutrients. They create nutrients from your food. They manufacture vitamins for your body to use between meals.

There is a world war going on inside and outside your body every day. Good bugs fighting bad bugs. Bacteria fighting bacteria. Yeast fighting yeast. Viruses fighting viruses. The largest part of your immune system is in your gut. No it’s not a bunch of white blood cells, it’s bacteria, yeast, viruses, and many other single celled organisms. A healthy body has up to six pounds of beneficial flora in the gut.

In addition to protecting us from infections, healthy gut flora protect us from toxins and carcinogens. They do this by either neutralizing them or grabbing onto them. Our stools are up to 90% bacteria. When they are eliminated, they take these toxins out with them.

A study done in 2007 looked at two groups of animals. One group was given antibiotics, while the other was the control. They were given large amounts of organic mercury in their food and water. In the group that we’re not given antibiotics, who had healthy robust gut flora, only 1% of that mercury got into the body from the digestive tract. In the group treated with antibiotics, which wiped out the gut flora, over 90% of the mercury got into their bodies, blood stream, bones, and everywhere else.[1]

Bacteria is Bad for You

Your gut also contains many bad microbes just waiting to take over. These opportunistic microbes are kept in check by your healthy gut flora. When their population is low, these microbes actually serve a good purpose. Only when they get overpopulated do they cause problems.

You can think of these opportunistic microbes as cops and criminals. As long as you have enough cops around, they’ll keep the criminals in check. Like most criminals, opportunistic microbes are waiting to take advantage of the right situation. Most criminals only rob when it’s easy or convenient. That’s why locking your car works. As long as your good gut flora outnumbers the opportunistic ones you’ll be okay.

Modern lifestyles wreak havoc on our beneficial gut flora. Antibiotics are the number one killer of healthy gut bacteria. Whether they come in the form of a prescription or residuals in the meat we consume, they decimate our healthy gut bacteria. Most prescription drugs, contraceptive pills, and chemicals in our food also damage our healthy gut flora.

When our healthy gut bacteria is reduced, the opportunistic microbes begin proliferating, unchecked. This can lead to gut inflammation and leaky gut syndrome, where partially digested food particles enter the bloodstream. These food particles can cause immune system reactions that may get mistaken for food allergies.[5]

When this happens these opportunistic microbes eat our food, convert it into hundreds of toxins that flow into the bloodstream through the damaged gut wall. These chemicals wreak havoc on a person’s body, especially a child’s body.[2]

Is Your Gut Rotting Your Brain?

Perhaps you think this idea is far-fetched. How could our digestive system have anything to do with our brain? They’re so far apart. But is it really that far-fetched? When a doctor prescribes an antidepressant, what does the patient do with it? Do they rub it on their forehead? No. They take it by mouth where it enters the digestive system. Only then does it get absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the brain.

So why should anyone consider it far-fetched that microbes in that same gut might also be excreting chemicals that affect the brain. We already know that bacteria can excrete toxins that rot teeth. Is it possible these chemicals may also be rotting the brain?

“All diseases begin in the gut.” This saying was coined by Hippocrates over 2,000 years ago. Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. Only now are we starting to realize he was right. Probiotics are becoming popular and antibiotics are starting to be seen for what they are. Destroyers of life.

Don’t Feed the Animals

Sugar and carbohydrates are the top foods for opportunistic microbes. Especially yeast. The most common type being the ubiquitous candida species. This is a large family of yeast with about 200 different species known to science so far.[1] Yeast breaks down these carbohydrates into alcohol by means of alcoholic fermentation. The same alcoholic fermentation that beer companies use.

When your digestive system runs out of carbohydrates, your opportunistic microbes start calling for more. Your brain uses hormones and chemicals to regulate thoughts and obsessions about food. Candida, parasites, and other bad microbes have evolved ways to mimic this natural process to trick you into eating more carbohydrates and sugar. However, their influence is only felt when there is an abundance of them.[3]

We’ve all been there. We open the refrigerator and just stare. We don’t know what we want to eat, only that we want to eat something. The reason this is so confusing is simple. We’re not the ones who are hungry, it’s the microbes in our gut that are hungry. They want carbohydrates.

The key to reducing your opportunistic bacteria is to stop feeding it. Reduce your carbohydrate consumption, especially sugar. Processed food contains many carbohydrates, but also chemical flavorings that only pathogenic microbes can benefit from. Our opportunistic microbes do not need the nutrients that healthy food contains. They are perfectly happy to live off junk food.

Repopulate Your Gut Flora

Probiotic supplements are a good place to start. However, you want to be careful what brand you buy. Cheap probiotics contain only contain lactobacilli. Good probiotics contain multiple groups of bacteria. A combination from the three main groups is best: lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and soil bacteria. Potency is also important. Look for at least 8 billion cells per gram. The more the better.[2]

The probiotic I use is Young Living’s Life 9. It has 17 billion live cultures from 9 beneficial bacteria strains. Another thing to consider is how long do the capsules take to break down. Stomach acid can kill most of the probiotic bacteria. Life 9 uses time release capsules so that the probiotics are not released in the stomach.

Years ago, before refrigeration, people had to be more creative in preserving their food. Lacto-fermentation was one of these methods. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. You’ve surely heard of sauerkraut, it gets its distinct flavor from the lactic acid produced by the bacteria fermenting the cabbage. When we eat fresh, unpasteurized sauerkraut, the bacteria go into our gut and help us digest food.

Pickles can also be fermented using bacteria. This is generally done with a starter culture. Pickles you buy in the store are pickled with vinegar. There are no beneficial bacteria to be found. Even if there were, they would be killed in the canning process.

Kefir is a cultured milk product. It’s like yogurt on steroids. But kefir is not yogurt. While yogurt may have 7-10 strains of bacteria, kefir frequently has up to fifty. The types of bacteria are different. The bacteria in yogurt pass through the body in 24 hours. The bacteria in kefir stay and take up residence in your gut.[7]

Kombucha is a fermented tea made by the kombucha culture of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha is proof that healthy doesn’t have to taste bad. Properly made kombucha tastes like bubbly apple cider. But don’t let the good taste fool you. In addition to good bacteria, kombucha contains a beneficial yeast that will help fight off bad yeasts, notably candida.[7]

For instructions on how to make all of these, visit Donna Schwenk’s www.culturedfoodlife.com. You can buy kefir grains, kombucha starter, sourdough starter, pickling culture, and books on cultured food.

Feed Your Good Flora

Once you get some good flora, you want it to flourish. One of the best ways is by drinking bone broth. Broth made from bones provides building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining. They also have a soothing effect on areas of inflammation.[8] This is why chicken soup is good when you’re sick. You can buy broth from the store, but be careful that it doesn’t have chemical flavors. These will harm your beneficial gut flora more than help it. Watch out for MSG, natural flavorings, or yeast extract.

The best broth is the broth you make yourself. You can buy pasture raised beef or chicken bones from local farms for $2 – $5 a pound. This broth will have many times the nutrients as store bought. You can also add vegetables like onions, garlic, and carrots to add even more nutrients and flavor. A good broth will taste like beef stew or chicken soup.

Vegetables are another important food for us and our gut flora. However, not all vegetables are equal. Most of the sweet, bland, and pale vegetables you find in the produce section have only fractions of the nutrients their predecessors had. One easy thing to look for is color. Darker is usually better. Darker green lettuce. Darker yellow corn. Purple is always better. Purple lettuce, purple carrots, purple corn. The darker colors indicate more nutrients.

The best way to get these vegetables is from local farms. Vegetables do not require very much space to grow. This means that urban farms can sell produce that’s just as healthy as large rural farms. It’s all about how the vegetables are raised. Do they use compost or miracle grow? We’re the vegetables picked within a couple days of being sold? Do they use pesticides or natural ways to deal with pests? Just because a vegetable has some insect damage doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, in japan people seek out produce with holes because that means it’s more natural. If the insects think it’s good, then maybe it is.

Meat is also an important part of your diet. Meat is the best source of protein. Some plants may contain high levels of protein, but our bodies don’t assimilate it well. What’s the point of eating lots of protein if most of it gets wasted?

Pasture raised meat from local farms is ideal. If you cannot afford pasture raised, you can buy meat from the supermarket. Buy raw unprocessed meat from the meat section. Processing eliminates many nutrients and adds chemical flavorings that will harm your beneficial gut flora. Making soups and stews is the best way to eat meat. They are easy to make, just throw the ingredients in a crock pot and let it cook.

 

Let’s not kid ourselves. If you want to take control of your health, you’re going to have to start cooking. Restaurants use cheap ingredients grown on the same mega farms that supply your local supermarket. They rely on chemical flavorings to make their food taste like the real food it’s impersonating. Restaurants are not concerned with how healthy their food is. They’re concerned with sales. If that means promising healthier food, then they’ll make a few adjustments. But in the end, they’re still using the same cheap food. It’s up to you whether you will continue to support that system.

 

 

References

  1. www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/gut-and-psychology-syndrome-gaps/
  2. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 51-53
  3. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/why-we-crave/
  4. www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/modernizing-your-diet-with-traditional-foods/
  5. www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/digestive-disorders/food-allergies/
  6. news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160111-microbiome-estimate-count-ratio-human-health-science/
  7. Cultured Food for Life, Donna Schwenk, 2013
  8. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 145

 

Why Grass Fed Beef is Better

Posted in Food for Thought

Beef is one of the most vilified foods on the market. It’s blamed for global warming, contributing to heart disease, and using up to a million gallons of water per cow. Some of these accusations may contain grains of truth, but only when regarding industrial beef. Also known as feedlot beef. 100% grass fed beef is not guilty of any of these problems.

“Grass-Fed” Beef is not the same as 100% grass fed.

The meat industry has been calling beef “grass-fed” despite being fed in a feedlot for the last several months before slaughter. You can read more about this scam in my article Grass-Fed Feedlot Beef. For simplicity, I’m going to use the term grass-fed to refer to 100% grass-fed and finished beef in this article.

100% Grass Fed Beef is Healthier

Meat from grass-fed animals have up to four times as much omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. As soon as cattle are taken off grass and fed grain, the omega-3s begin to diminish. This is because grain tends to be low in omega-3s and high in omega-6s. Grass is the opposite. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s.[1]

Grass fed beef also contains up to four times as much vitamin E as feedlot beef.[1] Even feedlot beef fed high doses of synthetic vitamin E only contained half as much vitamin E as grass fed beef given no supplements. Interestingly, most Americans are deficient in vitamin E. I wonder why.

Grass fed beef also contains less fat than feedlot beef. Grain makes cattle gain weight fast, that includes gaining much more fat. This fat is different from the fat of grass-fed cows. As i mentioned earlier, there is more omega-3s. There is also three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid or CLA in grass fed beef.[1]

Many of the nutrients in grass fed beef have been proven to protect us from disease. Omega-3s, vitamin E, and CLA have been shown to reduce our risk of cancer.[1] Grass fed beef has also been shown to be higher in beta-carotene, the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium.[3]

100% Grass Fed Beef is Safer

In a study done by Consumer Reports, they tested beef from various sources. They found that conventionally raised beef was more likely to have bacteria overall. Three times as many samples of conventional beef tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria as did the grass fed pasture-raised samples.[2]

When cattle are fed grains, their rumen goes from alkaline to acid. This allows bacteria to become acid resistant. Once they are acid resistant, they can survive in our digestive tracts. E-Coli O157, the most notorious, is acid resistant. It flourishes in the acid rumens of feedlot cattle.  

According to a study published in the April 2011 edition of Clinical Infectious Disease, nearly half of us meat and poultry is likely contaminated with Staph. This despite the widespread use of antibiotics in the raising of livestock.

Ammonia in Your Beef?

In 2001 Beef Products Inc. (BPI) began taking low-quality trimmings usually relegated to pet foods and began injecting this beef with ammonia. The ammonia effectively killed e-coli and salmonella, but it had side effects. Namely the odor and taste. The USDA accepted BPI’s own study as evidence that the treatment was effective, no testing required. This created tension inside the USDA, leading a USDA microbiologist to call it “pink slime”. Interestingly, beef prepared using ammonia is banned for human consumption in the European Union and Canada.[5, 6]

In an effort to make their product appear more palatable, BPI requested the ammonia be listed as a processing agent, this means that they no not have to list it as an ingredient. It’s known as lean finely textured beef, ammonia is not mentioned. Chances are, you’ve eaten finely textured beef recently. In 2012, up to 70% of ground beef  sold in the US contained finely textured beef. That number dropped off for awhile after the “Pink slime” scare, but has recovered. Meat containing 15% or less finely textured beef is called simply, ground beef.

School lunch officials used finely textured beef in order to save money, approx. 3% over regular ground beef. However, school lunch officials reported that BPI products began failing tests for salmonella. Up to three times as often as suppliers which didn’t ammoniate their meat. The contamination was not a failure in the ammonia treatment. Pathogens die when treated with enough ammonia. The problems showed up when BPI began lowering the ammonia content. This came in response to complaints by customers about the taste and smell of the beef.

Regardless of whether beef treated with ammonia is safer than beef not treated, I would rather not eat ammoniated meat. You can be reasonably sure that local 100% grass fed beef is free of ammonia. I don’t mind cooking my beef, and i’ll take my chances. After all, I know my farmer. I don’t know BPI.

100% Grass Fed Beef is More Sustainable

From an energy standpoint, grass-fed animals are cheaper to raise. Properly managed pasture requires only 1 calorie of fossil fuel to produce 2 calories of food.[7] Herbivores can eat these plants, humans cannot eat them. Raising grass fed beef does not require a lot of energy, the cows are harvesting their own food. The cost is in management, not fossil fuels.

Grass will grow in drier climates where crops and even trees do not grow well. Grass can survive on less water than crops and trees. This is because healthy grassland absorbs much more water. Instead of running off to the nearest stream, this water is used by plants or seeps down to refill aquifers. Soil with more organic matter has the ability to hold water from rainfall and slowly release it, reducing the severity of floods.[7]

Grazing land soils in the Great Plains contain over 40 tons of carbon per acre, while cultivated soils contain only about 26, on average.[7] I would not consider most of those grazing lands to be well managed. Yet they still contain nearly twice the soil carbon. This carbon is captured by grasses, legumes, and shrubs then stored in the soil when the roots are shed after grazing.

Once an herbivore eats grass down the process begins again. The grass goes into fast growth, breathing in carbon dioxide(CO2), breaking the carbon atom off and exhaling oxygen(O2). It does this until it’s either eaten again, or reaches full potential and goes dormant. Grasses going dormant is why undergrazing is just as bad for grasslands as over grazing.

Corn-Fed Beef is not Sustainable

While grass requires only 1 calorie to produce 2 calories of food, many crops, such as corn, require from 5 to 10 calories of fossil fuel for every 1 calorie of food produced.[7] The only reason this is even remotely feasible is because fossil fuel is cheap.

Corn is amongst the greediest of plants. It uses more fertilizer than any other crop grown on earth.[8] One reason is over-fertilization. Farmers apply up to twice the needed amount as a form of crop insurance. Sometimes this is necessary because the volatile nitrogen can be washed away by rain, evaporate into the air, or seep into the groundwater.

Cows are among the most inefficient at turning corn into meat. It takes on average 8 pounds of grain to put on 1 pound of weight.[8, 9] Pigs need only 3-4 pounds and chickens only need 2-2.5 pounds.[9] This is one reason for the rise in consumption of chicken.

Corn is not a natural food for cows. A cow digests food using fermentation. This is fine when the food is grass, but when a cow ingests corn, that fermentation becomes acidic. This can lead to acidosis, like heartburn. Feedlots have to give their animals special antibiotics to buffer the acidity. They also have to routinely use antibiotics to treat sick animals that probably wouldn’t be sick if they were still out on pasture.

Bloat is serious condition where the fermentation process is hindered by too much grain and not enough roughage. A layer of foamy slime forms in the rumen, which stops cows from burping. This gas continues to build up until pressure on the lungs suffocates the animal. Treatment requires shoving a tube down the animal’s throat to expel the gas. Does this sound humane to you?

100% Grass Fed Beef is More Humane

A calf born on a sustainable farm had a pretty good life. Farmers raising 100% grass-fed cows are focused on keeping their animals calm. Calm animals grow better, and taste better. This focus guides every part of the operation.

Most farmers aim to have their calves in spring. This is when the grass is at its best quality. If it’s a nice day, the cows can have their calve out on pasture. Out there the warm sun dries the calf gently and sanitizes the pasture.

Spring calving is also better for the mother. Spring grass is the most nutrient dense. That’s exactly what a newly lactating cow needs. Once she gives birth, her nutritional needs accelerate. But that’s why spring calving is so appropriate, her need accelerate at the same time that the grass is most ready to meet those needs.

When it comes time to wean, the farmer reduces stress by keeping as many things the same as they can. Once separated, they put the calves and mothers back in the same field as before, separated only by an electric fence. This allows them to see each other, but the calves can’t nurse. After a few days, the calves can be moved to another field and will hardly notice that their mothers are gone.

These cows stay on pasture right up until the day they’re shipped to the butcher. This is probably the only time they’re transported by truck, unless they were bought at a sale barn. They’re driven to the local processor, usually up to an hour or two away.

Many processors will take animals the day before butcher, to be kept overnight in tiny concrete stalls. This makes it easier on the farmer, but not the animals. Sustainable farmers like to bring their animals the same morning as they will be butchered. This is less stressful for the animal and more sanitary. Infact, one of the processors I used years ago insisted that we bring animal on the day of butcher instead of the night before. This was to prevent them from laying down in their own poop.

  This part might be a little stressful, but not nearly as stressful as conventional cows going to a massive slaughterhouse. Remember, grass-fed cows are used to people. They’ve been moved everyday. All of their experiences with humans have been positive. Unlike conventional cows. Cattle prods were made to move cows.

Feedlot Beef is Not Humane

A cow destined for a feedlot has a much rougher life. Conventional calves are born all year round. Feedlots need a steady supply of feeder calves all year. Some lucky calves are born during spring, others are born in the hot summer or during the cold of winter. Maybe the barn is heated, or maybe not. During winter, there is no fresh grass to be had for a couple months. Only dry hay. Not the most palatable thing to start off on.

Once the calves are born, life is pretty good, for about six months. Then it’s time for weaning. Most cattle ranchers accomplish this by separating the calves and locking them in a weaning barn. This sudden separation and change in location causes much stress for the calves and their mothers. You can always tell it’s weaning time by all the mooing and racket. Imagine if someone kidnapped your child. This is how the mother cows feel. One minute their calf is with them, the next minute it’s gone. That’s stressful.

Weaning is perhaps even more stressful for the calves. Weaning is a series of new and scary experiences, all at the same time. For the first time in their lives they are separated from their mothers, locked in a barn stall, taught to eat from a trough, and fed a new diet of corn. The stress of weaning and the change in diet make the calves prone to getting sick. This is when the medications begin.

Shipping fever, a viral infection common in feedlots, is the biggest killer of beef cattle. It’s caused by the stress of shipping calves long distances, which weakens their immune systems. Immune systems that were already weakened from weaning and their new diet. Then they are crowded together in large pens with cattle from other ranches. This exposes them to a host of new viruses.[10] Considering their living conditions, can anyone be surprised that feedlot cattle get sick?

Life in the feedlot is the real tragedy. Cows are herded into pens with around 90 others. When i say herded, i don’t mean gently prodded along. The aforementioned cattle prods are used on any cows who don’t cooperate. Ranchers are not asking permission. They’re not interested in what the cow wants to do, only what they need to do to grow the cows as fast as possible.

Once the cows are securely in their pens, they stay there for the next several months. These pens are about the size of a hockey rink. That may sound big, but when you have 90 cows, each dropping up to 50 pounds of excrement every day, that pen gets filthy in no time. You may have seen pictures of cows in feedlots standing on small hills, those hills aren’t made of dirt. While some feedlots try to clean their pens as often as every week, that still can’t keep up with 90 cows dropping manure every day.

Choose Local Beef

When you buy from a small local farm, you can be sure what you’re getting. Ask the farmer how they raise their beef. Do they feed any grain? Do they move their cows every day? Do they give them antibiotics or hormones? Can you come visit any time?

Go visit the farm. See the animals out on pasture. Get to know your farmer. Only by knowing them personally will you be able to trust them. You don’t need a fancy label or expensive certification to know your meat is good. Certifications aren’t guarantees. They may send an inspector out once a year, but who knows what the farmer does the other 364 days of the year. Not someone relying on that certification. Customer inspection is the best inspection.

 

References

  1. eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
  2. www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/how-safe-is-your-ground-beef
  3. www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/87/9/2961
  4. www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html
  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_slime
  6. agrifoodscience.com/index.php/TURJAF/article/view/148
  7. www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/nra/rca/?cid=nrcs143_014209
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, 2016
  9. alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=29892
  10. eatwild.com/animals.html